Sri Lankan food fest at The Leela Raviz, Kovalam

After the Italian food fest at the Vivanta by Taj, Trivandrum in August 2016 and the Chinese food fest at the Hilton GardenInn, Trivandrum later in November, I think the timing was perfect for the next international food fest in our capital city when the Leela Raviz, Kovalam decided to host a Sri Lankan food fest in the first week of the New Year itself.

Reaching early for the media launch of the ‘Island Nation’s Amazing Food’ Sri Lankan food fest at the Terrace restaurant, I spent some time exploring the Leela Raviz, Kovalam which is supposed to be India’s only cliff top beach resort.

A lot has changed since the summer of 1989, almost 28 years back, when I first visited the famous Kovalam beach and this resort. It was called the Ashok Hotel in those days, part of India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC). In the last ten years that I have been in Trivandrum, even though I have attended / covered umpteen events and conferences in this venue, this is my first food festival at this premium property.

The Sri Lankan food fest is being led by the veteran Chef Dr. Publis Silva of Mount Lavina Hotel, Sri Lanka, who has more than six decades of experience in the hotel industry.

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Roy Satheesan, the Executive Chef at The Leela Raviz, Kovalam explained how the planning for this festival has been going on for the last four months or so. “Our culinary team is exhilarated to collaborate with the legendary octogenarian Chef Dr. Publis Silva to bring forth a myriad of flavours from the same spices of Kerala with a twist. He has been with the Mount Lavina Hotel for 61 years. He has been functioning as the Director – Culinary Affairs since 2003 and has spearheaded numerous culinary projects, including the colossal task of popularizing Sri Lankan cuisine around the world.”

The festival is being featured for the dinner only buffet where the regular Kerala buffet has been replaced with the Sri Lankan spread consisting of three non-veg dishes, four vegetarian dishes, two live stations, a variety of sambols and two traditional sweets. The menu will change every day.

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We started off with the slightly fizzy jackfruit drink served in a glass rimmed with salt and pepper, before moving on to the mildly spiced Devilled prawns prepared for us by Chef Hewa Gamage at the live station. The hot and spicy Manioc (kappa / tapioca) roti completed the starters. Chef Dr. Publis pointed out that this was the first time they were doing the Manioc roti at a live station.

Along with a spoonful of Bath Rasagulawa, the fried rice with sweet peppers, I checked out all the dishes in the main course. I was always at home, be it the Cashew & green peas curry, Innala thel dala (kurka / Chinese potato), Chicken chatty roast or the sweet and spicy Pineapple anama. Except for the Lamb dummassa (mutton in honey) which was sweet, it was all familiar terrain while the crispy Crab curry was a bit salty for my taste.

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Three different Sambols (chutneys) – Seeni, Katta, Coconut and the Fish ambul thiyal provided the extra flavour. It was interesting to note that dried Tuna powder was a common ingredient in the sambol. Watalappam, a coconut pudding made of coconut milk & treacle and Jackfruit soufflé made up the desserts.

“Apart from the fiery and flavourful fare laid out as part of dinner buffet today, we would also feature Brinjal moju, Chicken pahi, Baby jackfruit curry, Pittu, Kiri bath and Coconut roti on other days”, Roy added.

I must admit that Keralites have a point or two to learn from the Sri Lankans on how to utilise Jackfruit which is available in abundance here in Kerala.

Joining us for dinner, Chef Publis, also the author of 23 books, shared his experiences of more than half a century. “While the Kerala cuisine shares lot of similarities with the Sri Lankan cuisine, the cooking styles are different. Our food is all about fresh and crisp ingredients”. He also explained about the use of spices in cooking while mentioning that animal fat or artificial flavours are not used.

Winding up, it was a good opportunity to experience the amazing food from our neighbouring island nation. So if you cannot hop off to our nearest international destination (from Trivandrum) to check that out, the best you can do is to drive down to The Leela Raviz, Kovalam. The festival concludes on January 11, 2017.

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Anil Philip

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